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March 22, 2014

Candidates for state, county office talk education, gun reform at political forum

CULLMAN — Cullman area residents met and posed questions to candidates for state and county office Thursday night at a political forum hosted by Victim Services of Cullman.

The ten candidates who participated in the event at Cullman Civic Center informed attendees on their platforms and why they were running before fielding questions from the audience. Topics that dominated the evening’s discussion was the state’s education system and recent gun legislation as well as help for victims of violent crimes.

Jeremy Oden, Republican candidate for Alabama Public Service Commission Place 1, was first to speak, and he explained how the PSC oversees the state’s regulations on utilities, telecommunications, and transportation. Oden is seeking a full four-year term after serving the past year as Gov. Robert Bentley’s appointee to the commission. Oden will face Kathy Peterson in the June 3 primary for the Republican nomination.

Next up was Walker County native Stan Cooke, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. Cooke said he believes the state needs education reform, and educators from all levels should be involved in that process. He opposes state Legislature’s passage of the Common Core curriculum and said his first act if elected lieutenant governor would be to demand a up-or-down vote on Common Core.

Cooke said he supported strong economic reform and appropriate funding of the state’s judicial branch which has lost $30 million in funding and half its workforce to cuts. Cooke will face incumbent Kay Ivey for the Republican primary with the winner facing Cullman native James Fields, who is unopposed for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.

Fields said he supports teachers and students and that no child should be left out or left behind. He pointed out that 60 percent of Alabama children receive either free or reduced lunches.

“Over the past few years our Legislature has not proven they can work together,” he said. “When you have only one side of the coin flipping and the other side is never seen then that means the people of this great state are suffering and are not being served properly.”

An attendee asked Fields if he thought the state should periodically examine classroom textbooks. He said he thought all curriculum should be evaluated and left up to educators. He agreed with Cooke’s comments that educators are being left out of that process.

State Rep. Joe Hubbard, D- Montgomery, is running for Attorney General as a Democrat against incumbent Republican Luther Strange. He accused his opponent of “being absent” on matters of crime, pointing to the proliferation of meth labs in rural areas and murders and other violent crime in urban ones.

“I think the Attorney General should be using all the state’s resources as the top lawman to enforce the law,” he said.

Hubbard said political corruption was another important responsibility of the job, and he criticized Strange for recusing himself from two current political corruption investigations.

Jim Purdue, Republican, Republican candidate for secretary of state, is currently the Crenshaw County Probate Judge. He will face Reese McKinney and John Merrill in the primary, with Lula Albert-Kaigler running unopposed as a Democrat. Purdue touted his business experience running a construction company that built convenience stores.

“I am the chief election official of Crenshaw County, and I want to bring that experience to the Secretary of State,” Purdue said.

He said he supported voter ID laws and that everyone who did not already have a state-issued ID card should be given one free. An attendee asked if the state revises voter rolls to remove the deceased to prevent voter fraud. Purdue said rolls are routinely updated, and the voter registration process has become more refined over the years.

Good Hope Mayor Corey Harbison, Republican candidate for District 12 state representative, told the crowd he saw firsthand child abuse and domestic violence during his law enforcement career. He said he is running because he feels many legislators are “out of touch with the common man and with reality and do what they are told by people who live hundreds of miles away.”

Harbison said as a big supporter of education, he’s been disappointed by changes to the education system.

“Education is the backbone of this state,” he said. “If we don’t educate our children, what kind of jobs are they going to get? What kind of tax money are they going to bring back into our local economies? What kind of houses are they going to build to pay property taxes on? That all starts with education.”

He said he opposed the Common Core curriculum and he supported the state school board to make decisions for students’ education. Harbison will face incumbent Mac Buttram and Cullman County Road Superintendent Roy Jackson in the primary.

Matt Gentry, Republican candidate for Cullman County Sheriff, said the sheriff has a responsibility to educate the public on new drug trends, to be more responsive to the needs of victims, to closely monitor sex offenders and to bring stability back to the sheriff’s office.

Attendees asked Gentry his views on recent gun legislation that allows residents to openly carry pistols and who should be disqualified from having a gun. Gentry said he was a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and anyone who can legally possess a firearm should be allowed. However, he said if elected, the sheriff’s office would work with other agencies to make sure those who are banned from having a firearm — those deemed mentally incompetent or who have any domestic  violence or felony convictions.

Republican candidates for the Cullman County Commission also participated in the forum. Kerry Watson, running for Place 1 (East Side), said if elected, he would serve residents everyday, working out in the county and in his office. Watson will face incumbent Darrell Hicks.

Gary Marchman, running for Place 2 (West Side), said he has extensive experience managing equipment, projects and personnel during his military career.

“We’ve got bad roads, but we don’t need to just patch our problems. We’ve got to manage our roads but also manage our budgets,” Marchman said.

An attendee asked Marchman if he knew how to build a road, and Marchman said he had experiencing overseeing the building of roads in South America when he was in the military.

Marchman will face veteran police officer J.P. White in the five-man race. White said he would do the right thing for residents for the right reasons, and he was running to serve the people of Cullman County.

The following candidates for county office did not attend: Sheriff Mike Rainey and challenger Tim Creel, County Commissioners Hicks and Stanley Yarbrough and county commission, Place 2 candidates James Graves and Doug Williams. State representatives Buttram and Ed Henry (District 9 representative) and Henry’s challenger Melvin Hastings did not attend. Neither did any candidates for District 4 senate.

Tiffeny Owens can be reached by email at towens@cullmantimes.com or phone at 256-734-2131, ext. 135.

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